Did the SDGs just forget about the state?

My research is based on a very simple premise: effective and inclusive states are a necessary component of development. It is not a radical idea, and far from a new one: the co-evolution of states, markets and democracies is the backbone of modern economics, sociology and politics. That is why the process of coming up with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has received some attention from myself and other colleagues: after the politically neutered MDGs, the SDGs held a promise of taking politics seriously for a change. We welcomed the inclusion of Goal 16 in the final list, even if it came with a far too ambitious and convoluted title: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. The proof was in the pudding, however, and the Expert Group of the UN Statistical Commission has now released its proposed list of indicators for measuring SDG progress. Sadly, of the 12 targets comprised under Goal 16, only 3 have anything to do with state effectiveness and inclusion, and none of the proposed indicators actually captures the key analytical ingredients of my premise. Continue reading Did the SDGs just forget about the state?

The concept with no discipline

Next week begins the first full master-level module that I am teaching at Manchester’s GDI: Policy Analysis. It is a bit of an experiment, intended to supplement the governance and politics stream with a more applied kind of course. Putting it together has been an interesting challenge, as I wanted to mix key ideas from policy sciences, political economy, organizational sociology and development studies. Despite this mad objective, I think the final result is a coherent course on the politics of the public policy process. But in putting this together I have started wondering again where it all went wrong for the study of the state and public administration.

Who are the key names in the literature about the politics of government? Max Weber was a lawyer, economist and historian who advanced sociology. Sammy Finer was a political scientist, expert on public administration and political historian. Charles Tilly, Theda Skocpol, Peter Evans – all of them sociologists who dabbled extensively in politics and history. Douglass North, economic historian and theorist who established the foundations for modern political economy. Robert Bates is a political scientist who also studied anthropology and economics.  It’s as if you cannot belong to a single discipline if you want to advance the study of the state and public policy!

And yet, 21st-century academia almost guarantees that scholars be sequestered in their ever-shrinking silos. At Manchester, traditionally the study and teaching of development has been separate from politics, economics or sociology (they even belong to different schools!), and even within development politics and governance are confined to courses separate from economics and management.  Then there’s me, putting together a course handbook spanning 4 or 5 disciplines. I must have been born 50 years too late!

Still, I am hopeful about our ability to integrate the politics of the state and public policy in the mainstream of development studies, which is after all a hybrid discipline. Perhaps in time I will find accomplices in development economics and development management who also feel a bit constrained by academic boundaries. In the meantime, I am sticking to my guns with Policy Analysis and the political study of the state, the concept with no discipline.

Speaking of sticking to one’s guns, I wonder what the man with no name would think about the concept with no discipline